Baseball’s annual Rule 5 (no Roman numeral please) draft is upon us and will take place on December 8 during this year’s Winter Meetings in Dallas. For a brief overview of the draft’s mechanics, check out Alan Schwarz’s 1995 article.
It appears to be a fairly weak group of available players this year and there certainly doesn’t seem to be an Andy Sisco (stolen by the Royals from the Cubs last year) in the bunch. Still, GMs and scouting directors have spent the past few weeks poring over hundreds of players in the hope of landing a prize like recent Rule 5 selections Johan Santana, Chris Shelton, Willy Taveras, Jay Gibbons, and Frank Catalanotto. Going back further you have George Bell and a guy that patrolled RF in Pittsburgh named Roberto Clemente.
This year’s crop is sprinkled with the usual assortment of raw power arms, LOOGYs, and potential utility players. Keep in mind when viewing this list that the best players don’t always get selected by the teams picking first. Whether some guys get picked (John Jaso, for example) will depend on organizational needs and the ability of a team to invest a roster spot in a guy who may not be ready to contribute much for another year or more.
Without further ado, here are the top 20 eligible players for this year’s draft listed in order based on probability of selection (age and highest level attained in parentheses):
- Kevin Howard, 2B, Cincinnati (24, AA)
AA (SOU): .296/.348/.428, 12 HR, 13 SB in 479 at-bats
AFL: .409/.475/.557, 3 HR, 2 SB in 88 at-bats
Howard is coming off a great Arizona Fall League (AFL) performance where he led the league in hitting. Nice way to get noticed. The AFL is typically very hitter-friendly, as teams don’t want to wear out the arms of their top prospects, but a .409 average is still pretty impressive. Teams should like his lefty bat and the fact that he’s adequate defensively at 2B, 3B, and probably OF should there be a need. Based on his bat and versatility, some team will take a chance on him.
- Brandon Sing, 1B, Chicago Cubs (AA, 24)
AA (SOU): .276/.404/.538, 26 HR in 409 at-bats
AFL: .246/.338/.464, 3 HR in 69 at-bats
Had a mediocre AFL, but Sing is coming off a regular season in which he put up a .942 OPS in the pitcher-friendly Southern League, including 26 HR’s and a nice 91 walks after hitting 32 HR’s the year before. Teams would love to have his bat, but the Cubs would have protected him if had even an adequate glove. An AL team could take a chance on Sing.
- Jarred Ball, OF, Arizona (22, AA)
AA (SOU): .253/.377/.363, 7 HR, 39 SB in 399 at-bats
AFL: .321/.406/.452, 2 HR, 2 SB in 84 at-bats
His strong performance in the AFL might garner attention. You would think the D’backs could find room for a guy with great speed, solid defense in CF (although some scouts are mixed about that statement), and the ability to get on base. Ball has posted OBPs the last two years of .359 and .377. He’s stolen 30+ bases twice, including 39 this year in AA. Has more upside than lots of OF’s on 25-man rosters.
- Ryan Mulhern, OF, Cleveland (25, AA)
A+ (CAR): .321/.395/.711, 17 HR in 159 at-bats
AA (EAS): .311/.386/.584, 15 HR in 244 at-bats
Flew under the radar a bit this year, but teams are surely looking at a guy who, between High A and AA, put up a .387 OBP, 32 HR’s, and a .586 slugging percentage (over half his hits were for extra bases). He also did all this despite missing a month after being hit in the face with a pitch. Impressive. He could be a real asset to some team’s bench; starting for a non-contender isn’t out of the question.
- David Espinosa, OF, Detroit (24 – almost, AAA)
AA (EAS): .262/.363/.411, 9 HR, 11 SB in 431 at-bats
AAA (INT): .244/.367/.293, 0 HR, 2 SB in 41 at-bats
AFL: .282/.352/.411, 2 HR, 2 SB in 78 at-bats
A first round pick of the Reds back in 2000, Espinosa has struggled to live up to his draft status. His main problem has been a lack of defense. It’s not like the Reds and Tigers haven’t tried, as Espinosa has been shifted around the diamond from SS to 2B and, more recently, the outfield. His ability at the plate may intrigue some teams. I think he’d be an excellent 25th man and pinch-hitter.
- Mitch Maier, Utility, Kansas City (23, AA)
A+ (CAL): .336/.370/.583, 8 HR, 6 SB in 211 at-bats
AA (TEX): .255/.289/.416, 7 HR, 10 SB in 322 at-bats
The versatile Maier played catcher in college, moved to 3B as a pro, and now roams the OF where he can play all three positions. He’s got an OK bat, having hit over .300 in each of the two class A levels in 2004 and 2005 before hitting a wall when he was promoted to AA. His lack of success above A ball may force teams to shy away, but Maier is a former first round pick who also hit .414/.473/.643 in three years of college, making him an intriguing potential 25th man.
- Jason Miller, LHP, Minnesota (23, AAA)
AA (EAS): 2.72 ERA, 6.2 H/9, 4.0 BB/9, 10.2 K/9 in 49 2/3 IP
AAA (INT): 3.81 ERA, 9.7 H/9, 5.9 BB/9, 9.4 K/9 in 26 IP
A 23 year-old lefty who’s had some AAA success already is going to be enticing to a few teams. Miller has struck out nearly a hitter an inning in his minor league career (8.7 K/9 rate). He held batters to a .213 average this year and could serve at least as a LOOGY type for a team that plays in a ballpark favorable to flyball pitchers (he had a .53 GB/FB ratio).
- Matt Chico, LHP, Arizona (22, AA)
A+ (CAL): 3.76 ERA, 8.3 H/9, 3.2 BB/9, 8.4 K/9 in 110 IP
AA (SOU): 5.98 ERA, 12.8 H/9, 2.6 BB/9, 6.0 K/9 in 52 2/3 IP
Probably ranks as one of the more well-known names on this list, particularly to prospect mavens. Chico was left unprotected after two straight years of poor AA performances, including ERAs of 5.78 and 5.98. Still, he’s intriguing because he’s left-handed, just 22 years old, and he throws hard.
- Adam Boeve, OF, Pittsburgh (25, AA)
A+ (CAR): .313/.419/.538, 13 HR, 12 SB in 249 at-bats
AA (EAS): .288/.375/.450, 5 HR, 5 SB in 160 at-bats
AFL: .313/.347/.418, 0 HR, 1 SB in 67 at-bats
Why the Pirates opted to protect a guy like Yurendell DeCaster who has zero upside instead of Boeve is beyond me. Boeve is a toolsy guy who’s really put things together the last couple years. He’s got speed, once stealing 29 bases in 55 games in his last year of college. Shows solid on-base ability and is very athletic and versatile, having played catcher early in his college career. Could catch on as a 4th/5th OF.
- John Hudgins, RHP, Texas (24, AAA)
AA (TEX): 4.67 ERA, 7.8 H/9, 4.2 BB/9, 5.7 K/9 in 17 1/3 IP
AAA (PCL): 5.87 ERA, 11.1 H/9, 3.2 BB/9, 6.8 K/9 in 102 2/3 IP
One of a few big surprises on this list, I would have thought pitching-starved Texas could find a way to protect one of their better pitching prospects. Sure, he had a down year, but keep in mind that pitching in the Pacific Coast League is no easy task. The Rangers would like to keep him, but some team could opt to stash him in their bullpen.
- Nick Pesco, RHP, Cleveland (22, AA – one start in 2004)
A+ (CAR): 3.82 ERA, 9.9 H/9, 2.3 BB/9, 5.9 K/9 in 153 1/3 IP
Pesco might have the best stuff among all starting pitchers this list. He shows solid command of four pitches most of the time, posting a BB/9 rate of a solid 2.3 this year. Doesn’t post the big strikeout numbers, so the Indians are thinking they can sneak him through the draft. They may be right, but some team could take a chance on his potential.
- Jamie Vermilyea, RHP, Toronto (23, AAA)
AA (EAS): 2.60 ERA, 9.2 H/9, 2.2 BB/9, 7.1 K/9 in 65 2/3 IP
AAA (INT): 5.60 ERA, 12.5 H/9, 2.8 BB/9, 6.1 K/9 in 35 1/3 IP
The Jays have toyed with Vermilyea in both starting and relieving roles, but his lack of a dominant pitch may make middle relief his future role. He’s around the strike zone often, leading to a low walk rate (2.0 career BB/9), but he can also get hit hard at times. AAA hitters teed off on him to the tune of a .331 average. Still, he may be worth a look.
- Drew Meyer, OF, Texas (24, AAA)
AA (TEX): .321/.372/.413, 3 HR, 12 SB in 321 at-bats
AAA (PCL): .247/.301/.354, 0 HR, 5 SB in 178 at-bats
AFL: .306/.354/.333, 0 HR, 4 SB in 72 at-bats
When Meyer was selected in 2002, he was a SS coming out of college and the Rangers took him 10th overall, passing on Jeremy Hermida and Scott Kazmir (among others), and despite already having Alex Rodriguez. While he’s disappointed, Meyer is still a versatile defender, above average runner, and he shows the ability to hit for a decent average. Could tempt a team looking for a utility guy, especially coming off a decent AFL performance.
- Bob Zimmermann, RHP, LA Angels (24, AA)
A+ (CAL): 3.32 ERA, 7.5 H/9, 4.1 BB/9, 9.4 K/9 in 59 2/3 IP
Zimmermann is a polished college closer with a nice fastball/slider combo. That alone will get him some looks as a potential 7th inning guy. Hasn’t pitched above A-ball, but it’s his stuff that could get him selected, not the competition he played against in 2005. Note that he pitched in the extremely hitter-friendly CAL league this year.
- Rafael Rodriguez, RHP, LA Angels (21, A)
A- (MID): 2.78 ERA, 7.4 H/9, 3.3 BB/9, 9.0 K/9 in 74 1/3 IP
A+ (CAL): 6.75 ERA, 10.5 H/9, 4.1 BB/9, 5.5 K/9 in 72 IP
Invites comparisons to the “other” Rodriguez in the organization, K-Rod. Had success in the first half of the year before struggling mightily in the desert air of the CAL league, but some team with a capable pitching coach may take him on potential alone. Sometimes it seems he doesn’t have a clue where the pitch is going, though, and he did stay in low-A ball for a few years.
- Chris Cooper, LHP, Cleveland (27, AAA)
AA (EAS): 2.08 ERA, 7.8 H/9, 2.9 BB/9, 9.6 K/9 in 56 1/3 IP
AAA (INT): 5.74 ERA, 11.5 H/9, 1.7 BB/9 8.6 K/9 in 15 2/3 IP
Yet another lefty reliever that could intrigue some team. At 27, he may be one of the older players on this list, but if he follows the example set by former lefty specialist Jesse Orosco, he could pitch for another 15-20 years. Good control and an 8.7 career K/9 rate could get him a look.
- Brian Barden, 3B, Arizona (24, AAA)
AAA (PCL): .307/.363/.483, 15 HR, 14 SB in 518 at-bats
Barden has a career minor league average of .302 and set a career high with 15 home runs in 2005, but keep in mind that it was the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League (and it was his second year there). Scouts question his ability to put up adequate power numbers for a corner infielder, but he’s at least as good as a few others that received significant time at 3B this year. Due to his plus defense and ability to potentially play some 2B as well, he could get a look.
- Bill Murphy, LHP, Arizona (24, AAA)
AAA (PCL): 5.65 ERA, 10.0 H/9, 5.8 BB/9, 6.5 K/9 in 74 1/3 IP
AFL: 6.26 ERA, 11.9 H/9, 1.3 BB/9, 11.9 K/9 in 74 1/3 IP
Traded three times in eight months, Murphy could see his fifth big league home this week should some team select him. Murphy’s struggles in AAA this year might cause teams to pass on his services, but he’s still highly regarded. Command was a big issue this year, as was confidence, but pitching in an extreme hitter’s park in Tuscon may earn him a bit of a pass. Had a few bad outings in the AFL en route to a 6.26 ERA, but look at that K rate. Wouldn’t hurt a team like the Devil Rays to roll the dice on Murphy instead of signing a Hideo Nomo type starter.
- Billy Sadler, RHP, San Francisco (24, AA)
A+ (CAL): 2.38, 4.6 H/9, 6.4 BB/9, 10.5 K/9 in 56 2/3 IP
AA (EAS): 3.86, 6.5 H/9, 5.3 BB/9, 7.1 K/9 in 30 1/3 IP
Sadler was projected as a potential closer coming out of college in 2003. He’s walked over six hitters per nine innings as a pro, but a team looking for a power arm may give him a shot. Seemed to work for the White Sox and similarly-erratic (in the minors) power pitcher Bobby Jenks.
- Glenn Tucker, RHP, Atlanta (24, AAA)
A+ (CAR): 16.20 ERA, 16.20 H/9, 3.6 BB/9, 7.6 K/9 in 1 2/3 IP
AA (SOU): 3.09 ERA, 9.0 H/9, 5.4 BB/9, 0.0 K/9 in 64 IP
AAA (INT): 0.00 ERA, 6.75 H/9, 3.1 BB/9, 5.9 K/9 in 1 1/3 IP
AFL: 2.30 ERA, 7.5 H/9, 2.3 BB/9, 5.2 K/9 in 15 2/3 IP
The Braves left Tucker unprotected, but that doesn’t mean they don’t like his potential. In fact, they plan on giving him a shot at a bullpen job this spring should he stay in the organization. Sent to the AFL to refine his command, Tucker held a host of top hitting prospects to a .230 avg and showed improved control. He’s posted a career minor league ERA of 2.71 and has yet to have any major struggles at any level. Could have a nice career as a workhorse reliever.
Also watch: Vince Sinisi, 1B, TEX; John Jaso, C, TB; Bobbie Brownlie, RHP, CHC; Tom Mastny, RHP, Cleveland;; Brooks Conrad, 2B, HOU; Jake Blalock, OF, PHI; Kevin Kouzmanoff, 3B, CLE; Charlie Morton, RHP, Atlanta; Carlos Guevara, RHP, Cincinnati; Davis Romero, LHP, Toronto; Ben Francisco, OF, CLE; Pat Misch, LHP, San Francisco; Matt Coenen, LHP, Atlanta; Brian Snyder, 3B, Oakland; Anthony Webster, OF, Texas; Jason Cooper, OF, CLE; Gregor Blanco, OF, ATL; Kevin West, OF, MIN; Charlie Zink, RHP, BOS; Dale Thayer, RHP, SD.
David Regan is a freelance baseball writer who resides in a coastal community just north of Los Angeles, CA. His work has been published at RotoAmerica.com, Fantasybaseball.com, and Insiderbaseball.com. You can reach him by clicking here.